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Thursday, 17 January 2008

Scottish Eccentric John Pinkerton

Scottish Eccentric John Pinkerton. John Pinkerton (February, 1758—March 10, 1826) was a British antiquarian, author, forger, numismatist, pseudo-historian, and early advocate of Germanic racial supremacy theory.

He was born in Edinburgh, as one of three sons to James Pinkerton. He lived in the neighbourhood of that city for some of his earliest childhood years, but later moved to Lanark. His studious youth brought him extensive knowledge of the Classics, and it is known that in his childhood years he enjoyed translating Roman authors such as Livy. He moved on to Edinburgh University, and after graduating, remained in the city to take up an apprenticeship in Law. However, his scholarly and literary inclinations led him to abandon the legal profession. It had been during his brief legal career though that he had begun writing, his Elegy on Craigmittar Castle being first published in 1776. In 1781, John moved to London, where his full career as a writer began in earnest.

Pinkerton very much wished to purge his country's history of all Celtic elements. In this aim, through two works, the Dissertation on the Origins and Progress of the Scythians or Goths (1787) and the Enquiry into the History of Scotland preceding the reign of Malcolm III (1789), he developed the theory that the Picts were in fact of the race of ancient Goths, that the Lallans language was a pure descendent of the Picto-Gothic language; and, moreover, that the Scots, or Highlanders, were a degenerate imposter race.

In an effort to further his theories, Pinkerton turned his energy to comparative Celtic and Germanic philology. He wanted to show that Scotland's Celtic placenames were not really Celtic at all. As Pinkerton did not know much at all of any Celtic language, it is not surprising that his work looks ridiculous to modern scholars. For instance, Aber (as in Aberdeen) comes, Pinkerton stated, not from any Celtic word for the confluence of a river (which is what it does in fact mean), but from the German über. Likewise, the Gaelic word Inver (equivalent of Aber) was supposedly a borrowing from Danish.

To the very same end he set his time and inventive mind to collecting and creating older Anglo-Scottish literature. This was all the more important as far as his agenda was concerned because of the "Celtomania" produced by the Ossian poems of James MacPherson. Many such works were pure forgeries that Pinkerton dishonestly invented. Pinkerton's "ancient" Anglo-Scottish, or as he would have seen it, Gotho-Pictish tale of Hardyknute had in fact only been composed in 1719 by Lady Wardlaw of Pitreavie. Pinkerton subsequently invented a sequel to this epic, but after he was exposed by Joseph Ritson, he owned up to the forgery.

John Pinkerton's works are seen today as spurious, even ignoring the heavy infusion of extreme racism and Germanic racial supremacy theory. His personal correspondence with fellow academics is characterized by insecurity, slandering, bullying and extreme malevolence. Hugh Trevor-Roper, one modern historian inclined to sympathize with at least the spirit of his views, called him "eccentric." Other historians have hinted at mild insanity.

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